Chronicling the full time RV lifestyle of a young family

Category: 2017 Page 1 of 3

Chapter 36: Oregon: where it all goes to hell in a handbasket

We left Washington state and drove right past Mt. Rainier and Mount St. Helens. Winter was approaching. The campgrounds were starting to close for the season and Eliza (who still hates riding in her car seat) was ready to slow down and take a long break so we headed into Oregon. We’ll come back some day Washington!

Can you spot the giant slug?

I was corrected several times: Its Ore-gon not Oreg-in. Whoops. Either way its a beautiful state. Our first stop was right outside Mt. Hood. We stayed at Mt. Hood RV Village Resort. We arrived at a weird time when the area was between seasons and a lot of things were closed but would re-open when winter/snow came. At least the campground had a pool. We also had the good fortune to meet up with 2 other fulltime families. We enjoyed a barbecue dinner and some fun social time. Eloise even made a fast friend with another little 5 year old who we will meet again at a rally in a few months. We explored the famous Timberline Lodge and Kevin mountain biked down part of Mt. Hood. 

Our second stop was Portland. We stayed at Portland Fairview RV park  right outside Portland. We enjoyed using it as a home base for exploring Portland. The weather was typical Oregon rain for half of our stay so we planned to tour around Portland on the weekend when the sun was coming out. Unfortunately Eloise came down with some viral illness and our plans were put on hold until she felt better. We were able to visit the Portland Zoo, shopped at Ikea (of course), took a family bike ride, and dined at a few family friendly restaurants (there were a few with dedicated play areas which was an interesting idea).  We had fun in Portland; it was relaxed and we’ll have to go back again some day. 

Our third stop was Florence. It’s a little town on the coast and it was quite picturesque.  We were there just  about 3 weeks and really got to make friends with other families and explore the area.  We visited the coast several times and it was beautiful and very different from the rocky coast of Maine. Brown sand beaches with steep wooded cliffs. We were finally taking time to smell the roses and enjoy family time. Things in our camper were working well and we had detailed plans for exploring down the coast of California over the coming weeks. We were comfortable. So of course it all goes to hell in a handbasket. First the rain came. We figured it was no big deal.  We’d been in rain before. Then the slide seal started to leak. It had leaked before several times; repaired twice. This time was worse. Much more water; much larger area. Fun. Still no big deal; we could get over that. Then water started dripping from the ceiling in our bathroom. That was new and not cool. Kevin heads to the roof: finds 2 sections where water has puddled under the rubber membrane. This was bad. Very bad. The icing on the cake was the water damage we found the next day de-laminating the side of the camper near the roof. Adding all of these issues to our known cracked frame and we were in a panic. Kevin contacted his liaison at Keystone and they agreed that the camper was in rough shape and verbally agreed to a replacement unit. Then the back pedaling came and they decided to send a technician out to check the camper. The technician took photos in an attempt by the manufacturer to claim we had altered the rig so to cause all of these issues.  Crazy talk. 

What happened next? Did Kevin’s mind explode brainy bits all over our walls in a fit of rage and exasperation? I’ll fill you in on the next chapter!

Moana and her little Hawaiian pineapple


Chapter 35: the Gem state and the Evergreen State

If you ever get the chance to visit Idaho we’d recommend Craters of the Moon National Monument. We left Montana headed towards the Northwest and planned a little detour to check this place out.  We were glad we did; it was really neat. To quote the National Monument’s webpage it is a “vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush.” Sounds a bit boring, but its such a unique landscape. We would have loved to stay there longer and tour around Idaho but there was no cell service, the campground was full, and we were getting tired of being on the move. We were ready to get to Washington state aka the Evergreen State.

We are a member of “Thousand Trails.” Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. Its a camping club membership. We have been members for a year but haven’t used it much due to several factors I wont get into here but the simple answer is that we were pretty ‘meh’ about it in the past plus we prefer boondocking. We almost did not renew our membership but we were glad we did. We stayed at one of their campgrounds right near North Cascades National Park in the town of Concrete and we had a really nice stay. The weather cooperated and the hiking was plentiful. Eloise was able to play with several children here which was fun for her too. 

Our second stop was just an hour north of Seattle where we stayed at another Thousand Trails property (they have numerous campgrounds in the Northwest to choose from). This one was pretty nice, quite large and beautifully lush–again we were pleasantly surprised. It was like camping among giant trees in the rainforest. Really cool. We used this campground as our home-base for visiting Seattle. We had always wanted to visit Seattle so we splurged: we decided to go into the city, rent a hotel, hire a babysitter (!), and go out on the town. It was ah-mazing. Fun for all. Eloise was excited to have a sitter, Eliza could have cared less haha. We were able to enjoy a meal and a few drinks in a fun city in total peace and quiet….As a family we also enjoyed visiting the Pacific Science Center, Children’s Museum, Artists at Playground, and Pike Place Market. 

Our third stop in Washington was Olympic National Park. Amazingly lush. Another beautiful National Park. We drove up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center and over to Obstruction Point. The views were in and out of the clouds and the temps were in the low 30s…brr! Then we followed highway 101 around the park (which is huge) down to the Hoh Rainforest. For these two stops we camped for the first time at an Escapees park for a few nights and at the Elks Lodge in Forks. Both stops were uneventful however we found the Elks to  be very welcoming and a good value. Nice to meet some fellow Elks along the road! Interesting side note is that the town of Forks is where author Stephenie Meyer based her Twilight saga novels and selling the “Twilight” experience is now a source of income and tourism for this town! 

Chapter 34: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

We were scheduled to head to Glacier National Park. We had been excitedly waiting to go. As she often does: Mother Nature had other ideas. The smoke and wildfires had been spreading and the air quality was known to be poor with low visibility. We maintained hope that we would still be able to go until we heard that an old historic lodge in Glacier burned down and roads were starting to close in the park due to the spreading fires.  

Were we bummed? Yes, but plans change. We decided to change course and meet up with some friends.  The Blokzyls had invited us to meet up with them right outside of Yellowstone National Park for a week of dry camping and boy were we glad we did. The boondocking spot right by the Yellowstone river was amazing. River views. Picnic tables. Friends near by! We had a great time and were able to stay about a week and a half before the fair weather turned wintry. 

Kevin and Drew kayaked down a portion of the Yellowstone River one sunny day and had a blast

We had a fun time playing with their little boy (Eliza’s baby friend). We enjoyed the riverside beach, hiked all around Mammoth Hot Springs and enjoyed two dips in the ‘boiling river’. Fun times. We even enjoyed a hilariously chaotic dinner out with them: 3 kids 5 and under reeking havoc on a pub. We had met up with this family at a family rally in Tucson last year and knew we would meet again. Thanks for all the fun memories!

We were sad to part ways but we were headed South and they were headed West. Winter was nipping at our heels in Yellowstone and we left the area just as a storm was brewing. 

Kevin and I had both explored Yellowstone in the past but we did take a day to see the highlights with the girls. Here’s a tip to anyone going to Yellowstone in the future: don’t plan to visit hot pools of water in cold temperatures because all you’ll see is a thick steam. Also, the masses of foreign tourists in the area were unreal  (especially around Old Faithful) and really put a damper on us having a good time. 

A view of Grand Prismatic spring on a nice summer day

A view of Grand Prismatic spring on the day we went–and believe it or not the parking lot was totally jammed packed! For this?!

Grand Teton National Park is breathtaking. One of Kevins favorite parks (he had previously backpacked across the Teons with his friends several years ago). We were fortunate to get a fantastic boondocking spot on Upper Teton View with an amazing view of the mountains. Unfortunately the internet was almost non-existent so we could only stay here for a long weekend but we enjoyed every minute of it!

We took the boat across Jennie Lake to some lovely hiking on a beautiful Grand Teton day. Temperatures while we were there were quite cold and we did get a dusting of snow one day. We knew the area was teetering on the edge of winter; in fact, the very next day after we left, the Jackson hole area received its first significant snowfall that shut down some roads!

The view from our boondocking site! Amazing!



Chapter 33: South Dakota in a Nutshell

We followed I-29 North through Kansas City, Omaha, and Souix City; we took several breaks along the way at numerous rest stops to stretch our legs. We even stopped to enjoy the “world’s largest corn palace” in Mitchell, SD. (It was interesting/strange…)  Finally we arrived in Wall, SD: Home of Wall Drug Store: a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere. Home of ‘free ice water’ and ‘5 cent coffee’. Since it was just about 100 degrees outside we passed on the cheap hot coffee. We enjoyed viewing all of their oddities: you can ride a jackalope, check out the roaring T-rex, play on the splash pad, shop in the gift shop, grab a bite at the restaurant, etc. Not really our thing but if you are near Wall Drug you have to say you stopped in! (Plus they had some pharmacy history to view) What else is there in Wall, SD? Nothing (practically nothing) except the Badlands National Park. 

We, of course, didn’t drive thousands of miles to ride the jackalope. We were excited to visit the Badlands. We parked right out side the park at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and we were very glad to finally take a moment and enjoy the sights for a week. (Or so we thought). 

Temperatures were sweltering. Eliza was extra cranky. We had plenty of solar but the air conditioner could barely keep up. The point of boondocking (for us) is to enjoy nature and it was almost too hot to be outside. We took a drive through the National Park one afternoon and saw 5 different types of animals in 5 minutes.: sheep, buffalo, prairie dogs, coyote, and haws. It was fun and Eloise definitely enjoyed trying to spot all the different animals. Unfortunately due to work and the hot hot temps we weren’t able to enjoy the hiking in the area. We packed up after only a few days and hit the dusty trail further on to Custer and the Mount Rushmore area. 

Mount Rushmore was interesting. It was neat to see it so up close and to learn about the history of the sculpture. Parking is $10 and I was a little put off by that and the whole thing seemed liked more of a tourist trap vs. a quiet place to experience and view a piece of history. We also took time to go to Wind Cave National Park.  Unfortunately Eliza wasn’t feeling the ‘family friendly’ cave tour that was recommended and had a melt down 40 minutes into the 60 minute tour. She was d-o-n-e. (Oh well, first time for everything–she had been on a cave before and slept through it.) It was a beautiful cave and her cries echoed marvelously throughout it 🙂

Our campground in Custer I thought was unique. It was an old Flinstones themed campground that opened in 1966 and was sold in 2015. It re-opened under the name “Buffalo Ridge RV Park” but some of the old Flintstones decor remained and it was entertaining to see. I would have loved to visit this park in its heyday (probably 1990s?)

One night while were were riding around on the campground train (which was free and kinda cool) we met 2 other families who 1) happened to be parked right next to us and 2) were also traveling the country. Eloise had a ton of fun playing with all of their kids and we enjoyed a campfire with them before we parted ways. We decided to check out Rapid City before leaving the area and both of the girls had fun at the Wa Tiki indoor waterpark. Eliza loved the warm water and zero-entry pool while thrill seeker Eloise was able to ride on all the slides on Dad’s’ lap; a fun day!



Chapter 32: To the Midwest we go!

Once we got the call from Keystone that our camper was ‘ready’ we packed and left. Our goal was to make it to Glacier National Park; we knew that fall and winter came early up there: therefore we had to get our butts in gear.

We left Maine, drove straight to the Keystone factory, grabbed the camper, got all of the items out of our storage unit in Elkhart, IN and hit the road to Missouri just in time to be in the path of totality for the solar eclipse!

Let me break that down for you:

  • Thursday: with 2 small children we drove 1,067 miles straight through the night in our truck arriving just as Keystone opened for the day. Yawn!
  • Friday: Once we saw the camper at Keystone we realized that they were not really ready for us to pick it up and a few more items needed to be addressed. (Not surprising at all) We wandered around the local Walmart getting supplies while they finished up. Once the unit was truly ready we drove across town to our storage unit with 2 kiddos who were more than ready to get out of the truck. (Thankfully I had arranged for a helper to help us unload the storage unit items back into our camper. Without this hired helper I found on Kevin would have been unpacking items for the rest of the day.) We spent the night in the area putting all of our junk back into its rightful place.
  • Saturday: The next day, things were still a mess. We organized a bit more, bought more supplies at Walmart, and then hit the road late in the afternoon towards Illinois.  
  • Sunday: We were able to say hi to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Dick who were kind enough to drive down to meet us in the middle of nowhere IL (te Chebanse KOA) for a Sunday morning visit. We chatted and watched Eloise swim around in the unheated outdoor pool. Brr! We left later that afternoon to drive another 300 miles to Missouri to arrive just in time to be in the path of totality for the eclipse. Solar eclipse traffic heading down from Illinois to Missouri was not as bad as the rumors we had heard but still added a good 2 hours to our trip. Fun! (At least driving through Illinois was mildly interesting: miles and miles of corn as far as the eye can see!) We parked next to  another fulltime family who invited us to their grandparents house in St. Genevieve, MO to view the eclipse.
  • Monday: Solar eclipse day. It was amazing: the eclipse, the hospitality, the friendship. We had a lovely time. The experience of being in the path of totality was neat. We stayed to visit with them for a few days of rest while Eloise and Eliza enjoyed playing with their 2 girls.  We parted ways at the end of the week as we were headed North and they were going South. Until next time Rackovans!

Chapter 31: Our Main Maine Adventures

We arrived in Maine Mid-May. On August 14th we got the call from Keystone that our camper was ready for pick up, but more on that to come shortly. This post is to fill in the gap: what did we do in Maine?

Our first month in Maine was all work, maintenance, and organizing. Boring. Time sure did fly by but here is a short list and some photos of some of the more fun things we had been busying doing around this region in July and August:

  • Green Valley Campground, Vassalboro, Maine–we stayed here for 3 weeks
    • Playing with our friend Maddie on the playground
    • Meeting up with our old friends and having a sleep over with Sherry
    • Mountain biking

  • Moe.Down Festival in Turin, NY–we drove out here for the 4 day event
    • The girls enjoyed the live music
    • The near constant rain and resulting mud was a bummer
    • Meeting up with our friends Brian and Sherri was a blast

  • Poland Spring Campground, Poland, Maine–we stayed here for 9 days
    • Tons of activities for kids at this campground
    • Swimming in the pool/learning to swim without a floatie!
    • Hiking up Tumbledown Mountain with the Thomas family
    • Vising great grandparents from Poland

  • Bar Harbor, Maine–we stayed at Bar Habor Campground for 10 days
    • Pirate’s Cove mini-golf
    • Udder Heaven ice cream
    • Swimming at the pool with our new Canadian friends
    • Kayak around Jordan Pond
    • Popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant
    • Bike several miles of carriage trails
    • Dinner out with the Thomas family

  • Skowhegan, Maine–our camper did not come with us here. We stayed at my family’s cottage on a pond for a month while our camper was in the shop for repairs
    • Swimming
    • Canoeing/kayaking
    • Family time/visits with Uncle Bub, Auntie Caitlin, Aunt Marcia, and Big Mem
    • Visits with friends
    • Celebrated Eliza’s 1st Birthday
    • the Skowhegan State fair

Good Bye Maine! Until next time…

Chapter 30: Maine-tenance

Maine. Home. Home? It was nice to breathe in the fresh cool air. We had a few weeks of repairs lined up and it was quickly clear that it would take longer than anticipated. 

We parked on our family’s lawn which was multipurpose: help with the repairs and help with the kids. Eloise loved it and enjoyed visiting with everyone. Eliza enjoyed all the new faces. Many thanks to all the family members who pitched in to help with all of our projects. We completed tasks fast and furiously and barely stopped to take any photos of it. 

  • Disk brake conversion! (A huge DIY project)
  • Baby swing hanging in the toy bay area
  • Lowered the happijack bed to normal floor height (no more climbing a ladder to get into our bed!)
  • Kids bunk beds modified to fit neatly into the bedroom slide
  • School desk built for Eloise starting kindergarten
  • Living room painted white
  • Kids room painted white (it was a very light green that ended up looking white)
  • Curtains measured and to be sewn, all old dark valances removed
  • Camper washed and waxed
  • All new tires for camper 
  • All new tires for the truck

It seemed that just as we were ‘fixing’ things even more things were breaking. We couldn’t move our home without something going wrong. Kevin had been in contact with the manufacturer and they agreed that it would be best if our camper returned to the factory for major structural repairs and all minor repair work. In the interim, we were told that it would be best to keep a list of all broken items and limp it along until our camper could get to the ‘hospital’ in Elkhart, Indiana as Eloise called it.

After numerous hours on the phone with Keystone, Kevin was finally scheduled to drive it out to  Indiana to drop it off on July 24th. His dad graciously agreed to tag along and help with the driving while the girls and I sat this trip out in Maine. His dad also helped with emptying our home contents into a storage unit. (Yes, you read that right, Keystone requested the camper be empty of personal items–what a pain!).

Its official: our camper is in the hospital. When will we get it back? 4 weeks or so we have been told…stay tuned!


Chapter 29: Our Belated One Year Celebration

We’ve been on the road for one year. ONE YEAR. Boy does time fly. (Technically it’s one year and about two months now but i’m a little behind the times). We’ve had our share of ups and downs; life on the road can be richly rewarding but also has its own set of challenges.

Here are some quick stats on our year in review: 

  • Number of nights boondocking/dry camping: 118
  • Number of miles traveled: approximately 10,000
  • National Parks visited: 12 
  • Number of side of the road breakdowns/flat tires: 0! (I am setting us up for next year) 
  • Items that we carried across the country and never used: chainsaw, several items of baby gear, excess clothing, books, DVDs
  • Number of repairs needed to the camper: Too high to count
  • Overall average cost per night: $25 (we learned MANY things our first year out and believe we can significantly reduce our cost per night over this next year. Its worth noting that our average cost per night West of the Mississippi was only $13!)
  • Strangest place we visited: Probably Gila Bend, AZ numerous metal dinosaur sculptures all around town but no grocery store
  • Something we never expected: We were camping near our friends who also live in their RV full time. They were approached by a local charity with offers for blankets because it was assumed they were homeless!
  • Coldest camping night: Bryce Canyon, 28 degrees F
  • Favorite places visited: 
    • Kevin: Moab, UT –biking and hiking
    • Emma: Death Valley, CA–hiking, breathtaking scenery, kid friendly
    • Eloise: Disney world in Orlando, Florida –princesses and theme park rides
    • Eliza: every grocery store across the US–loves to ride in the cart and get free cookies from the bakery

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here are photos of our favorite moments from this past year. Enjoy!

(Hover over the photo for the caption or click on it to see full size/slide show)


Chapter 28: Just a hop, skip and a jump up to Maine!

Long car ride selfie (found this photo weeks later on my phone!)

We left Albuquerque on a Thursday night and had about 12 days to make it to a work meeting for Kevin in Massachusetts. We were anxious to get to Maine but we vowed to make several stops along the way; to try to take our time and not rush. (If you recall, last fall we drove 24+ hours straight from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas to Arizona and agreed that we would never do that again. Ever.)

First stop: Arkansas. One of our favorite fulltime families is taking a break from travel and is parked on family land in Arkansas. Since we had never really been to rural Arkansas before and Eloise loves to play with their son, it was an easy choice. Arkansas was very lush and green. We parked next to them and enjoyed the pretty pasture and the rain. We had fun chit chatting and taking a break from riding in the truck. We went to their family’s farm and Eloise and Eliza had their first horse ride; we thoroughly enjoyed their Southern hospitality.

Friends dueling and playing Mario cart

Horse rides!

Pigeon Forge, TN

Second stop: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This ‘resort’ city is home to “Dollywood” and is right outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Boy was this place built up; a true tourist trap. Parts of it resembled the styling and commercialism of Downtown Disney. There were so many chain restaurants, theme dinners, gift shops, etc. Part of me wanted to immediately go shopping but there are only so many postcards, t-shirts, and magnets one needs. (But its fun to look!) We skipped the shopping and hit the hiking trails instead. Great Smoky Mountain National Park has two unfortunate distinctions: the most visited and the most polluted/poor air quality.

Scenes from the National Park

Some of the fun we had at the KOA in Pigeon Forge

Traffic into the park was thick by 7am. The hiking trails that were easy and nearby (i.e. kid-friendly) were packed and the parking lots were congested. Nevertheless we had a nice time checking out the sites. This was also the first park where we experienced an ‘auto nature trail’. It’s like a hiking trail for your car. It was interesting. After spending so much time in the truck, I can’t say that Eliza particularly enjoyed this trail and the slow pace of following other cars through the forest at 5 mph. We were able to see wildlife and the scenery from the road was beautiful rolling pasture. We stayed at a KOA here in Pigeon Forge and it was fun. It was hot, like 90 degrees hot and they had a pool. They also had a playground and a ‘jumping’ pillow and tons of kids; we enjoyed our stay. When traveling long-ish distances we typically drive at night from 7pm until we get tired and stay at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels for the night and then wake up and keep driving the next morning. Stopping at this KOA  for 4 days was a pricey, but nice change.

Fun times with friends in Massachusetts

Third stop: Southborough, Massachusetts. Our friends Katie and Brady live there. We dry camped at the Cabela’s parking lot (as we had in the past–its quiet there) and enjoyed visiting with them and their little boy. Kevin was able to get in a mountain bike ride too. After having towed our camper through numerous states where driving has been a nightmare Kevin can definitively say that driving in Massachusetts is still the most frustrating state for road rage. Some things will never change haha! We finally crossed the border into Maine on a Wednesday afternoon and immediately got to work: we had two weeks of camper repairs and upgrades planned and we were ready to get them over with so we could begin to enjoy our summer.

Chapter 27: Last stop for us in the wild west

This kid was all smiles in Petrified Forest National Park!

We weren’t able to hit any of the ‘cool’ spots in New Mexico like Roswell or Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a big state and we plan to go back next year.  We were on a timeline and our mission was clear: get to Albuquerque in time for Kevin’s work conference.  When you have two ‘littles’ in tow you really can’t deviate from the plan. Eliza was getting increasingly anxious and fidgety during day-time car rides too…

Scenes of beautiful petrified logs

We left Moab, UT with time to explore Petrified Forest National Park and  some of the city of Albuquerque before the conference started.  We did drive a portion of Route 66 which was cool.

Petrified Forest National Park was a small-ish park. We camped right on the edge of the park at a gift shop that was also a campground. We explored the park for an afternoon and then drove towards New Mexico that evening. We went on several short hikes and it was neat to see the beauty of the petrified wood.

We stayed at “Enchanted Trails RV Park” right on Route 66 in Albuquerque. They had several vintage campers that you could rent out to say in for the night!

Some of the fun things we did while in Albuquerque that we have photos of: played Nintendo switch, swam at the pool (note Eliza’s size 12 month swim suit that’s just too tight to be pulled up), coloring, and playing house together.

We were much less inspired by Albuquerque. We went on a family bike ride, went out to eat, and took in the view of the Sandia Mountains but never really ‘connected’ with this city. We met up with Kevin’s friend Brandon who was also in town for the same work conference and went out to a yummy restaurant. Once the conference was over we hitched up and hightailed it outta there on the long long road to Maine…

This photo perfectly sums up dining out with children: Child missing from her seat. Water glass full of toys. Bread basket nearly empty (her dinner).

Eloise admiring the petrified wood or having a foot-stomping temper tantrum? You decide… 🙂

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